Release Date: Oct 7, 2014
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Washington DC alt-rock hotshot Mary Timony has been bashing ears in high style for a couple of decades, previously with Helium, Autoclave and Wild Flag, and now with Ex Hex, whose hit-after-hit debut LP is just deliriously great fun – this has got to be the air-guitar album of the year. Drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright join Timony for a power trio that seems intent on celebrating and rejuvenating some of rock’s enduring pleasures: here are 12 succinct, speedy, riff-happy gems smothered in snarling backtalk and shameless, glorious guitar solos. Ex Hex sit somewhere near the middle of a Go-gos/Ramones/Sleater-Kinney Venn diagram, and join latterday power-pop aces like Warm Soda, the Love Triangle and Sheer Mag in making some of the most endlessly repeat-listenable should-be-hits of recent years.
Washington DC’s Ex Hex – aka Mary Timony, Laura Harris and Betsy Wright – are firm believers in and lifelong beneficiaries of the ecstatic potential of rock’n’roll, and they’ve produced a debut that restores transcendence to a faded idiom. ‘Rips’ draws skilfully from the twang of CBGB-era punk, glam’s robust swagger and Go-Gos pop-punk, imbuing the likes of small-town howl ‘New Kid’ with the assurance that comes from two decades spent playing in bands (Wild Flag, Helium, The Aquarium, Benjy Ferree). That these three 30-something women write rollicking songs in an ostensibly teenaged realm – trouncing shitty summer jobs, mean kids and juvenile boyfriends – may seem odd, but it’s a mark of Ex Hex’s generosity that they transmit their unshakeable confidence through a world that’s accessible to (especially younger) listeners.
Anyone who's followed Mary Timony over the past 20 years has seen her virtuosic guitar playing take many different forms. Throughout her time playing in Autoclave, Helium, the Spells, Mind Science of the Mind and her solo work, Timony's style has been snaky, hypnotic riffs that gave her a unique signature.Even in the rockin' supergroup Wild Flag, Timony's winding axe work could be detected amongst Carrie Brownstein's Sleater-Kinney-esque leads. But that's all changed with Ex Hex, Timony's latest band with Laura Harris and Betsey Wright.
You have to hand it to Ex Hex: they didn’t waste any time. Around this time last fall, the Washington, D.C.-based garage-pop trio, lead by guitarist/singer Mary Timony, had yet to play its first show. The only real evidence of the band’s existence was an early mix of the song “Hot and Cold”, which Timony posted online, then quickly removed. Within a month, the band–which also includes bassist/singer Betsy Wright (Childballads) and drummer Laura Harris (Aquarium, Benjy Ferree)—had joined up with Merge.
With Helium, Wild Flag, and her other projects, Mary Timony has played everything from feminist punk to subversive fairytale prog-pop. Over the years, she's made more room for fun in her music, and Rips proves just how good she is at it. While Helium had their share of sneakily catchy tunes, Ex Hex -- also featuring the Aquarium's Laura Harris on drums and the Fire Tapes' Betsy Wright on bass -- are much more melodic and direct than anything she's done before.
It was bad enough, really, that Sleater-Kinney split - or, at least, went on hiatus - in the first place. The brilliance of their aggressive, crisply-produced final record, The Woods, was testament to the fact that Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss were at least somewhere close to the peak of their powers when they called it quits. A few years later, two of the three would reunite to turn out a frankly superb, self-titled LP as part of the supergroup, Wild Flag; when modern renaissance woman Brownstein effectively called time on that group, too, to turn her attentions to her occasionally funny sketch show Portlandia, it again felt like a travesty, especially given how smoothly she made the transition from guitarist to frontwoman.
Somewhere along the line, there comes a point in time when the urge to simplify pulls at you, no matter what skills you’ve mastered or how much experience you’ve gained. Who knows if that’s the motivation behind Mary Timony’s new project Ex Hex, but the end result on her trio’s first album Rips makes a good case for taking that kind of mindset. For Timony, known for her ‘90s feminist-rock band Helium and, more recently, for making Wild Flag a supergroup instead of a Sleater-Kinney offshoot, Ex Hex seems to represent an opportunity to uncomplicate her music: Rips is a lean-and-mean set of catchy, classics-indebted indie tracks, a fairly decisive departure for someone noted for being a guitar heroine who’s fluent in complex vernaculars like post-punk and renaissance-faire folk, math-rock and space-rock.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Four chords into Rips, and the tone of the record is set. Crashing in with brashness, the unapologetic attitude of the record is made clear for all to see, where Mary Timony and her cooler-than-thou drawl override heady riffs and powerful driving drums. When she warns, "if you're going to stop messing around / You better hurry up, don't let me down," it becomes an undeniable fact that Ex Hex are three women who will always be cooler than you and furthermore have the songs to back their nonchalant exterior.
Before she joined Carrie Brownstein in the technicolor whirlpool that was Wild Flag, Mary Timony wrote one of the most important ‘90s alt-rock records you might not have heard yet. Helium’s The Dirt of Luck, released on a young Matador in 1995, pirouetted away from grunge with a machine gun rally of loose, dirty hooks. “Pat’s Trick” and “Superball” play out like candy you eat despite the grit caught in the wrapper because it just tastes that sweet.
For Ex Hex’s Rips, guitarist Mary Timony got a new axe to shred: a 1977 Les Paul Special. The lead singer puts her retro instrument to great use on the LP, which leans heavily — and mostly succeeds — on the merits of its rip-roaring riffs, huge hooks, and classic rock vibes. The record technically represents the debut album for the DC trio, but all three members — Timony, Laura Harris, and Betsy Wright — are music vets.
This all-female trio are the most exciting thing to happen to hard-driving power-chord grooves since Kathleen Hanna kneed us in the groin with ''Rebel Girl.'' Ex Hex's debut, Rips, does what the title promises, from the Velvet Underground swagger of ''Hot and Cold'' to the pop-punk ''You Fell Apart,'' both about bad dude decisions (''Tried so hard not to forget/That you’re just a creep that I regret''). Singer-guitarist Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag) has been on the D.C. hardcore scene for decades, and her new band's no-frills approach incorporates doo-wop melodies and Joan Jett anthemics without ever being cutesy or overthought.
For years, Little Big Town has been implicitly living in the shadow of Lady Antebellum, country’s male-female soft-pop harmony monolith, and it suited this group fine. Its songs were often more delicate, with less bold ambition. But on “Pain Killer” (Capitol Nashville), its sixth album, it’s ready for a fight: streamlining its roots-minded harmonies and delivering them with new, lean muscle, making for its best album yet, one of the signature country releases of the year.
As long as those big wheels keep on turning to keep the big machines rolling, then why the hell would anyone try to reinvent them? Sure, you might tweak them here and there to increase power or conserve energy, but the crucial thing is that those wheels are round and will take you from one place to another with the minimum of fuss and with maximum effectiveness. And if anyone knows anything about not re-inventing the wheel to create one hell of an impact, then it's Ex Hex. Rips, the debut album from this Washington DC trio, stuffs 12 sparkling gems into just over 35 minutes.
Ex Hex — Rips (Merge)Ex Hex Rips, indeed it does. This first album by Mary Timony’s new trio — that’s her, bassist Betsy Wright (also in Chain and the Gang) and drummer Laura Harris — is named after the guitarist’s 2005 solo album, the first move back towards guitar-centric abrasion after a dalliance with folk. It makes good on the association, stripping back Timony’s off-kilter timings and melodies and sharp political observations to pure hedonistic rock.
I really don’t want to do this, but I need to make a point. Rips sounds like a whole boatload of stuff you’ve heard before. Much of it follows a well-defined straight and narrow, its deviations a one-foot step off the balance beam rather than full-fledged jumps. So, not only does Rips obviously derive from a host of well-worn rock subgenres, it doesn’t even significantly vary its influences.